Effects of Fatherlessness on Children’s Development

Figures from 2012, show there were 961 thousand single parent homes, which is 15% of the Australian population. About 67% of them had dependants living with them, of the 961 single-parent families, 780 where single mothers making up the majority of the single parent population. In the United States, the prevalence of single mothers is partly due to the growing trend of children born outside marriage. Figures from the Census Bureau show out of the 12 million single-parent families with children under the age of 18, more than 80% were headed by single mothers.

Four out of Ten children were born to unmarried couples and nearly two-thirds of them to mothers under age 30.  Of the single parent population in the United States, single mothers make up the majority. People become single parents due to many reasons, for example, divorce, death, domestic violence and IVF. According to an article published in the daily telegraph, about 50 people join the wait list for a sperm donor each month at IVF Australia. And around of the would-be parents are single mothers. The rise in the number of single mothers could also be because there is no more stigma attached to it.

Why do we have more single mothers than single fathers?

One reason could be incarcerations, figures from 2012 show, in all territories men made up 93% of the population, while female 7%. The median age of male prisoners was 22.9 years, and two-thirds of the prisoners were aged between 20 and 39 years. In the United States, 2.7 million children have a parent in prison, and the majority of the population in prison is made up of young black men most of them life sentences. Incarceration is the biggest cause of fatherlessness in the black American community, a baby born to an African American home has a 1 in 3 chance of ending up in prison.

Another reason is domestic violence, figures show 1 in 6 women have experienced physical or sexual violence by co-habiting partners since the age of 15. 1 in 6 women, and 1 in 9 men were physically or sexually abused before the age of 15. In 2015, 2800 women and 560 men were hospitalised after being assaulted by a spouse or partner. All in all, the data showed that women are at increased risk of family and domestic violence than men. Some groups are more vulnerable, For example, indigenous women, young women, pregnant women and separating women from their partners. This could explain why women win custody battles majority of the times.

The third reason could be some men cannot be bothered being fathers, especially after divorce.  Custody battles are brutal, and anyone who has been through will attest to that. When parents separate sharing custody requires a lot of coöperation and hard work based on mutual trust and respect for the benefit of the children. This is often very hard to achieve after going through family court, some Men think it is not worth the stress dealing with there ex-partners, so some men opt out.

Furthermore, there is a general perception in society that women make better parents than men. Mum always knows best and dad, well dad has no idea about anything, that is why some men leave parenting to women and would instead rather go to work and provide financially for their family rather than spend time with them. This is because going to work and making money is often a lot easier than staying at home with human beings that depend on you for everything. If you speak to mums, they will often tell that going to work is a break fro them as well.

Finally, what it means to be a man has changed so drastically in the last 50 years that most of us are confused about what it means to be one. Life for men was hard but also simpler 30 years ago. Men knew what was expected of them, they worked, they provided, they went to church, and they got drunk on the weekend. But as more and more women become self-sufficient and reliant on themselves. There are not a lot of things men can do that woman cannot, hence the confusion.   The confusion is especially pronounced among young men.


Four Reasons why fathers are important

Academic achievement

(Radl, Salazar, & Cebolla-Boado, 2017) Found that children from homes that did not have a father where less likely to well in school. The study measured cognitive skills using standardised scores in mathematics, the study primary focussed on the effects of absent fathers and living with grandparents had on children. The study analysed 35 countries that are part of the OECD organisation, nations that were studied include Australia, Austria, Belgium to name a few, these were mostly wealthy countries. The study found that absent fathers affect the educational opportunities of their children more through cognitive and not the non-cognitive mechanism.

Fatherlessness and First sexual activity

(Mendle et al., 2009) Found that children raised in a household without a biological father have an earlier than the average age for first-time sexual intercourse than children raised where the father is present. Other studies also show that girls whose fathers left earlier in their lives had the highest rates of both sexual activity and adolescent pregnancy. Interestingly fatherlessness has also been linked to girls going through puberty at an earlier age.   Another study assessing the factors related to the sexual activity of adolescent girls, including age, race and delinquency, found that father involvement found that father involvement was the only reason that reduced the odds of engaging sexual activity.

Fatherlessness and longevity

study published in the journal paediatrics found that loss of a father has a significant adverse effect on the telomere. Telomeres are a protective nucleoprotein that caps the ends of chromosomes. Telomeres are thought to reflect cell ageing and overall health, their role is to help maintain the DNA ends of a chromosome after cell division. Every time the cells divide the telomeres shorten and once the telomere is too short cell replication stops. Other studies have shown that shorter telomeres are linked to diseases in adults, this includes cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

The study found that at nine years old children that lost their father had significantly shorter telomeres, 14 per cent shorter than the average. Death was the most significant association, and the effects were seen more in boys than girls. Perhaps the interesting aspect of the study was that the impact of lack of fathers on telomeres was mediated by genetic variants in the cell serotonin transporter system. A child’s genetic type may reduce the association between a child’s social, environmental behaviours and telomere length and serve as a protective factor.

Fatherlessness and Decreased Income  

There is a considerable amount of literature that details the effect of single parenting on children upbringing. For example, Children from single-parent homes are more likely to be poor than children coming from married-parent households. Figures from the Australian Bureau of statistics indicate that one parent families are more likely to have fewer economic resources than other families. In 2013-14 the average one parent family with dependent children received an equalised disposable household income of ($687 per week), which was less than all households ($998 per week).

In conclusion, one thing I found interesting when I was researching for this article was to discover that fathers affect the child well-being at a biological level after the child has been born. One would think, the study would be all over the news.

 

 

Readings 

Mendle, J., Van Hulle, C. A., Brooks-Gunn, J., Emery, R. E., Harden, K. P., Turkheimer, E., . . . Lahey, B. B. (2009). Associations between Father Absence and Age of First Sexual Intercourse. Child Development, 80(5), 1463-1480.

Radl, J., Salazar, L., & Cebolla-Boado, H. (2017). Does Living in a Fatherless Household Compromise Educational Success? A Comparative Study of Cognitive and Non-cognitive Skills. European Journal of Population, 33(2), 217-242. doi:10.1007/s10680-017-9414-8

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